Olympic sports writing: 2004-2015

Selected features and interviews, plus coverage from several Olympics:

Features

Sochi 2014

London 2012 (all Bleacher Report unless noted)

Vancouver 2010: Nordic sports and biathlon (all USA TODAY)

Beijing 2008: Everything, especially soccer (all USA TODAY)

Torino 2006 (USA TODAY)

Athlete interviews (all USA TODAY)

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I’m back – what’d I miss?

My hand is out of a splint after three weeks, though my typing speed is still diminished by a bit of tape on my two still-aching fingers. I may need to put my goalkeeping career on hold for a while.

I’m also relatively not sick. I have no idea how I’ve had waves of sinus and throat problems through the most mild summer of my lifetime, but a doctor has assured me she’ll figure it out. I got back from vacation to find Northern Virginia had become a sauna to start September, and after leading a couple of youth soccer practices in Venusian conditions last night and walking a couple of miles this morning, I actually feel better. Go figure.

Enough complaining. I’m back, and it’s time to give a quick update on the blog, my writing priorities over the next few months, and what happened in the sports world while I was healing.

The blog: Expect more links and fewer 1,000-word pieces. I want to keep sharing Olympic sports news, but I’m going to do that more efficiently. No more Monday Myriad (in part because my youth soccer practices are on Mondays), so this will be the last “roundup” post for a while. My analysis will more commonly be on …

The podcast: Hoping to do another one this week, depending on my guest’s schedule.

Medal projections: By next year, I hope Olympic sports news will be in the context of my medal projections. I’ll be working on that, along with …

Enduring Spirit epilogue: The tentative plan is to re-release the book (electronically only) with the epilogue added. I’ll also release the epilogue separately at a low, low price, so if you already bought the book, you won’t be shelling out another six bucks. I’m going to do a few postseason interviews, so don’t expect this right away.

Single-Digit Soccer: This project keeps gathering momentum. I’m planning to speak and gather input at the NSCAA convention in January, and I hope to finish it by next summer.

Other than that, I’ll still be writing at OZY, a site you should check out even if you never read anything I write. And you may still see an MMA book I finished a while back.

So what happened while I was out? In no particular order:

Badminton World Championships: South Korea wins men’s doubles, China won three other events, and the women’s singles went to … Spain? First time for everything, and this is a terrific photo:

Judo World Championships: Olympic champion Kayla Harrison was the only U.S. medalist, taking bronze.

Rowing World Championships: Britain won 10 medals, New Zealand won nine, Australia and Germany eight each, and the USA won seven. The World Championships include a lot of non-Olympic events, so don’t use this for medal projections. These championships included some para-rowing events, which accounted for one U.S. medal. The sole U.S. gold went to, as always, the mighty women’s eight.

World Equestrian Games: The sole U.S. medals so far are in the non-Olympic discipline of reining. Britain, Germany and the Netherlands are cleaning up. Olympic quota spots (earned by the country, not the athlete) are available in dressage, eventing and show jumping.

Also, Ollie Williams (the man behind Frontier Sports) looks at the Olympic prospects of horseball. Yes, horseball. They compare it to a mix of rugby and basketball, but I think it’s a mix of polo and quidditch.

Triathlon, World Series grand final: Gwen Jorgensen didn’t need a great finish to clinch the world championship. She did it anyway. Too early to declare her athlete of the year?

Swimming, Pan-Pacific Games: Phelps, Ledecky and company have it easy compared to Haley Anderson, who won open-water gold after a jellyfish sting, a race postponement and a race relocation. 

Track and field, Diamond League finals: Half of the events wrapped for the season at the Weltklasse Zurich over the weekend; the rest finish up Friday in Brussels. Check the Monday Morning Run for a recap that includes fellow Dukie Shannon Rowbury diving along with U.S. teammate Jenny Simpson as the latter took the women’s 1,500 title in style.

Today’s Frontier Sports wrap has a couple of track and field links (along with helpful links on badminton and much more), including “the often-told, never-dull tale of how (Brianne Theisen-Eaton) almost impaled (Ashton Eaton) with a javelin.”

Overall Diamond League winners include Simpson, Michael Tinsley (USA, 400 hurdles), Christian Taylor (USA, triple jump, took title away from teammate Will Claye at final), Lashawn Merritt (USA, 400 meters, Kirani James wasn’t at the final), Reese Hoffa (USA, shot put), Veronica Campbell-Brown (Jamaica, 100), Dawn Harper-Nelson (USA, 100 hurdles — Americans won every Diamond League race), Tiana Bartoletta (USA, long jump) and Valerie Evans (New Zealand, shot put, swept).

Women’s soccer, NWSL final: I got back from vacation to see this, and I’m glad I did. It was a compelling final, and while Seattle would’ve been a worthy champion in every sense, Kansas City deserved it. The Lauren Holiday-to-Amy Rodriguez combo is as potent as anything you’ll see in soccer.

Kansas City now holds the top-division U.S./Canada titles in men’s soccer (Sporting KC, MLS), women’s soccer (FCKC), and men’s indoor soccer (Missouri Comets, coached by FCKC’s Vlatko Andonovski). The latter won the last MISL title before most of that league leapt to the MASL.

The league also announced it would play a full schedule next summer with a break for the World Cup, which means international players will miss a considerable number of games. The big worry: The season will spill into September, bad news for those counting on international loans or fall coaching jobs to supplement the league’s small paychecks. But the league didn’t have a lot of good options, and now they’re poised to ride a World Cup wave if one materializes again.

Basketball World Cup: Senegal over Croatia is the big upset so far, while France, Brazil and Serbia have created a logjam for second behind Spain in Group A. The USA is cruising through an easy group.

Men’s volleyball World Championships: Many people are watching.

The USA won a thrilling five-setter and lost an epic to Iran in early group play.

Modern pentathlon World Championships: Underway with relays.

MMA: The UFC 177 pay-per-view card had already been hit by a rash of injuries. Then one of the UFC’s most heralded recent signings, Olympic wrestling gold medalist Henry Cejudo, had a “medical issue” while trying to make weight. Then former bantamweight champion Renan Barao, set for a rematch against new champ T.J. Dillashaw, also couldn’t make weight. Joe Soto got the Seth Petruzelli-style bump from the undercard to the main event. Unlike Petruzelli against Kimbo Slice, Soto couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity.

So the most noteworthy things about the card, apart from Cejudo and Barao’s weight-cutting issues, were:

1. Bethe Correia taking out another of Ronda Rousey’s buddies, veteran Shayna Baszler. Now Rousey wants a piece of Correia, who’ll be happy to oblige.

2. Dana White launching an unholy rip of the media. Some days, I miss covering this sport — this would’ve been fun.

Overseas in ONE FC — I’m absolutely biased toward Kamal Shalorus, who works in our wonderful local dojo and is as nice as he could be. Glad to see him get a title shot, but Shinya Aoki was always going to be a tough matchup, and Aoki indeed kept the belt.

Chess: World champ Magnus Carlsen and top U.S. player Hikaru Nakamura are at the Sinquefield Cup, but Italy’s Fabiano Caruana has left them in the dust, beating Carlsen, Nakamura and the other three to go a perfect 5-for-5 halfway through the double round-robin.

And we’re a month away from Millionaire Chess. Ignore the monetary losses and enjoy.

Cycling: Vuelta a Espana in brief — Nairo Quintana fell, Alberto Contador took the lead.

Video games: A terrific glitch in Madden ’15 — a 14-inch-tall linebacker:

Coming up: Bloody Elbow is looking at the upcoming wrestling World Championships.

Glad to be back!

Diamond League Lausanne: Blake and Bolt Show rolls on

UPDATED WITH VIDEO (Thanks, Universal Sports!)

Yohan Blake just provided more evidence that we’re living in a Golden Age of sprinters.

The Jamaican posted a time of 9.69 seconds into a slight headwind to win the 100 meters at the Diamond League’s Lausanne stop. That ties Tyson Gay for the fastest time ever recorded by someone other than Usain Bolt.

In fact, it ties Bolt’s then-world record from Beijing. Bolt went faster to win the 2009 World Championships (9.58) and the Olympics earlier this month (9.63).

Gay ran a quite-respectable 9.83 on Thursday to finish second. Jamaica’s Nesta Carter was third, and the USA’s Ryan Bailey was fourth at 10-flat.

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

Then Bolt himself came onto the track for the 200 meters and also tied Tyson Gay’s best at 19.58. The commentators spotted a few flaws in his race, then pointed out that only four people have ever gone faster (one of whom is Bolt himself).

He also plays some air bass. No, not air guitar. Not at that angle. Air bass. Trust me on this. I’ve played both.

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

Also in Lausanne:

– Carmelita Jeter made such a stunning comeback in the women’s 100 meters that the announcers had pretty much given the race to Olympic gold medalist Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce (Jamaica), assuming that Jeter had done no better than make a close race for second. Fraser-Pryce probably assumed she had it, too, and might have had a more convincing lean at the finish had she realized the danger. They both finished in 10.86. If you follow Jeneba Tarmoh after the whole Olympic trials kerfuffle — she was sixth in 11.13.

– Matthew Centrowitz ran a personal best 3:31.96 in the 1,500 meters, good for third place behind Kenya’s Silas Kiplagat (3:31.78) and Ethiopia’s Mekonnen Gebremedhin. Leo Manzano had his best time of the season (3:34.08), good for 10th. We told you those Diamond League meets with their pacemakers were faster than the Olympics, right? Galen Rupp didn’t finish — that’s worth checking on later. But if you don’t know Centrowitz’s name, learn it now. He was third at Worlds last year; fourth in the Olympics this year. Worth hyping when he runs.

– The men’s 110 hurdles were disappointing — Olympic champion Aries Merritt false-started. Silver medalist and world champion Jason Richardson won in 13.08, just ahead of the resurgent David Oliver.

– New Zealand shot putter Valerie Adams continued her Belated Gold Medal (Thanks, WADA) Victory Tour by smashing a meet record that had stood since 1989. Not saying that previous record was questionable, but it was well before WADA was established, and the holder was from East Germany. That record was 20.36 meters. Adams tossed 20.73 on her first attempt, watched as no one else came close (the USA’s Michelle Carter was second at 19.60), then came back for her unnecessary final attempt and threw 20.95.  Now she’s just showing off.

– Seven of the eight runners in the women’s 100 hurdles were from the USA or Canada. No, Lolo Jones wasn’t there. Neither was Kellie Wells. So you won’t be surprised that Dawn Harper won. But her time of 12.43 is very good.

– Don’t ask about the U.S. high jumpers.

– Brittney Reese is still in her post-London doldrums.

2012 medal projections: Old Cold War battles, Jamaica heat up women’s running

Olympic athletes don’t just show up out of nowhere in an Olympic year, except maybe in a few secretive nations. Next year, we’ll have world championships in virtually everything, giving us a good chance to project what might happen in 2012.

We’re not waiting until then. We’re setting up some projections now, then revising as new results come in. It’s FiveThirtyEight with less math and no Rasmussen.

Today, it’s …

ATHLETICS: Women’s running events

We’re not Eurosnobs. Really. But isn’t “athletics” less awkward than “track and field”?

Besides, the marathon uses neither a track (except at the very end) or a field. And the shot put can be held anywhere.

The year’s top performances for each athlete are given in parentheses, but remember that some top athletes (Usain Bolt springs to mind) didn’t put much emphasis on running in a year with no Olympics or World Championships. (Source: IAAF)

We’re going to split this into running events and non-running events, then split it further by gender. We have a lot of ground to cover.

Continue reading 2012 medal projections: Old Cold War battles, Jamaica heat up women’s running

Diamonds for Bershawn Jackson, Allyson Felix

A couple of quick updates:

Shot put (men): Reese Hoffa upsets Christian Cantwell, though Cantwell has long ago clinched season title. (Results)

High jump (women): Chaunte Howard Lowe didn’t jump. Blanka Vlasic completes the sweep in her absence. (Results)

400 hurdles (men): Bershawn Jackson wraps dominant season. (Results)

200 (women): Season champion Allyson Felix wins a close one. (Results)

800 (women): Caster Semenya, cleared to run after some gender confusion, places third. (Results)

100 (men): Tyson Gay wraps up title with a 9.79, 0.01 off his world lead and 0.02 off Usain Bolt’s meet record. (Results)

1,500 (men): Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop takes win and season title, with USA’s Leo Manzano second in a personal best 3:32.37. (Results)

100 hurdles (women): Canada’s Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, who came into the race tied with USA’s Lolo Jones, wins to clinch the title. Jones, who finished the season in a slump, takes fifth. (Results)

LaShawn Merritt, male enhancement and unanswered questions

Startling news from track and field today: 2008 Olympic champion and 2009 world champion 400-meter runner LaShawn Merritt revealed that he has accepted a provisional suspension due to positive drug tests.

His championships aren’t at risk. In fact, none of his competitive results are at risk; the positives were recorded on out-of-competition tests since he last raced in September. The question is when he’ll be able to return to competition. If Merritt gets the standard two years, he’ll miss the 2011 World Championships.

But there are a few mitigating circumstances and oddities that need to be investigated.

The substance in question: a male enhancement product that he started using after last season. He didn’t realize it contained dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a banned substance. Veteran Olympic sports reporter Philip Hersh (Tribune papers) says the product is ExtenZe, for which DHEA is prominently mentioned on the ingredients. (If you’re paranoid about what might happen if your Web browser’s cookies reveal you’ve browsed ExtenZe’s site, just take my word for it and don’t follow that link.)

USA Track and Field CEO Doug Logan, known to soccer fans as the first commissioner of Major League Soccer, released a blistering statement: “He has now put his entire career under a cloud and in the process made himself the object of jokes. In this day and age, a professional athlete should know better. Personally, I am disgusted by this entire episode.”

Merritt makes no effort to hide his embarrassment in his public statement.

As an athlete, and strong advocate of fair competition; I have worked
very hard to push myself to the outer limits of my physical abilities
without any performance enhancement drugs. I’ve always prided
myself on doing what’s right, and will continue to do so.

To know that I’ve tested positive as a result of product that I used for
personal reasons is extremely difficult to wrap my hands around.

But there’s something interesting in the press release issued by experienced athletes’ rights attorney Howard Jacobs. The tests were in October, December and January. Merritt wasn’t told of the tests, Jacobs’ release says, until March. He didn’t learn until “days ago” that the substance was DHEA.

A 5- or 6-month delay? That’s not supposed to happen. Check Article 7 of the World Anti-Doping Code (PDF).

Also a little odd, though it doesn’t mitigate the big ol’ “DHEA” on the ExtenZe ingredient list and on the Code’s 2010 prohibited list (PDF): You won’t find anything about that particular product by searching the GlobalDRO database site that is supposed to help athletes figure out if that bottle from the local vitamin store is on the up-and-up.

I’ve e-mailed the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for comment and will pass on results.

Update: USADA confirms that Merritt had three urine samples with positive tests for “testosterone prohormones.” Merritt has accepted a provisional suspension, the investigation is ongoing, and the agency will comment again after that. No specific answer on the time gap between October and March. I’ve asked one follow-up: Have the B samples already been tested as well?